Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Jacob McArthur Mooney

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Ten Questions with Jacob McArthur Mooney

Jacob McArthur Mooney is an editor with the always controversial web journal ThievesJargon.com and the founder of The Facebook Review. His work has been widely published, and in 2006 he was shortlisted for the CBC Literary Award in Poetry. The New Layman’s Almanac (McClelland & Stewart) is his first book.

OB:

Tell us about your book, The New Layman's Almanac.

JMM:

Okay, well, I think it’s really great. Not to be obnoxious about it but I’m proud of it and I think people will like it. It’s a loud, gregarious thing wrapped in deliciously upbeat packaging that very purposefully screams “I’m shallow!” and then tries to win back the reader’s trust and affection by filling in its flashiness with something real, both emotionally and intellectually. That’s the game. I think all books should be games, they should always have a central challenge and this one’s challenge is to use the vocabulary of pap and misdirection for good. To turn insincerity against itself.

OB:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

JMM:

Anyone and everyone. If any writers out there are willing to shrink the cult of people who still hold an interest in poetry into “their” readers and “not their” readers, they possess a level of self-hatred I can’t begin to wrap my head around.

OB:

What poets got you interested in poetry?

JMM:

I’m not sure. The only pre-college poetry I can remember reading were old Norton anthologies and the like. I’m not sure if you could have called me interested, though. I only ever felt like I was ALLOWED to write poetry once I started collecting poets who made experiences I was close to seem like appropriate fodder for a poem. People like Lorna Crozier and Tom Wayman and John Sweet. Now, of course, I feel close to poetry itself, not just to the thimbleful of personal experiences I can relate to but to the whole underlying struggle of the thing. So now the influency floodgates are opened wide.

OB:

What was your first publication?

JMM:

Like most of the ones that followed it, it was from an online journal. The journal’s name is Zygote in My Coffee, and it was also their first issue (I’m in their 105th issue, out this month).

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment?

JMM:

I’m pretty easy to please. I write at night mostly, though I’m permanently attached to my notebook and make a lot of jotnotes throughout the day. I need to be in a good mood. I need to have my rent paid and the heat turned on and I need to be relatively comfortable. That’s all. I don’t write well from worry, or from anger. If a poem strikes the reader as particularly dark, you can bet that I felt better about the whole thing once I sat down to write about it.

OB:

What are you reading right now?

JMM:

All I seem to have time for this month are books written by friends. I’m reading Songs of Insurgency, which is a collection of short stories by a shockingly talented writer named Spencer Dew, who you can read a lot from online. Also, I’m working on The Sherpa and Other Fictions by my friend and classmate Nila Gupta, who has that rare gift of being able to write with technical virtuosity while maintaining a unique voice.

OB:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

JMM:

a. Why I Hate Canadians, by Will Ferguson, b. What We All Long For, by Dionne Brand, and c. Night Field, by Don McKay.

OB:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

JMM:

I’m at that point in my writing life where I get ten new pieces of advice every day, so I feel like an expert on this subject. One piece I’ve definitely taken to heart, and I know it’s a cliché but it’s true, is to read voraciously. Specifically though, I remember being told to read broadly, that writers benefit from being Jack and Jills of all trades. So I try to self-educate in that way, to read about things I would have never have pursued unless I assigned them to myself as homework: art history, how the Jet Stream works. There are whole universes of vocabulary out there to tap into. That’s probably where The New Layman’s Almanac’s themes of variety and education come from.

OB:

Describe the most memorable response you’ve received from a reader.

JMM:

I did a reading once where, at the end, an older gentleman sidled up to me, patted me on the shoulder and said “I liked your poems. It’s strange though, when I read them before I always thought you were a woman” and so I said, you know, “Even though my name was on them?” and he nodded his head and then said “Yes, because Jacob is a girl’s name too, you know” and then sort of smiled to himself and wandered off to talk to someone else. If I ever find a woman named Jacob, I’m going to describe this guy to her and find out if they know each other.

OB:

What is your next project?

JMM:

I’ve got too many going at once right now. I’m an MFA student at U. Guelph (which I highly recommend if anyone’s interested), so I’m doing a creative thesis (read: a book) in poetry there. It’ll be done in the fall. I also have drafts of two separate novels, one’s a farce set in a socialist commune and the other is a more experimental piece about writers and The Cold War. I’m going to have to pick one and just finish it. Multitasking is not good policy, for a writer.

The New Layman's Almanac “A rollicking debut from a young enthusiast with some of Walt Whitman’s beaming sincerity. . . . Mooney takes authentic and big literary risks, by exploring sincere emotionality, genuine political belief and considered poetic experiment. . . . This is Canada speaking, loud, clear, quirky and unashamed to be itself. This is surely one of the most audacious and fresh poetic debuts of the new Canadian century.” - Globe and Mail.

Visit the McClelland & Stewart website to read more about the The New Layman's Almanac by Jacob McArthur Mooney.

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